Some UFOs may be explained as ball lighting

Dec 02, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Image of very bright fireball over Brisbane

(PhysOrg.com) -- An Australian scientist studying photographs of fireballs, UFO sightings and a report of a strange green light in the sky suggests some UFOs may be ball lightning caused by fireball meteors.

Dr. Stephen Hughes, an astrophysicist from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) was asked to study over 200 photographs of green fireballs taken with mobile phones by people near Brisbane, Queensland, on the night of 16 May 2006, and sent in to a local television station. Fireballs were also reported that night in northern New South Wales, the Northern Territory and in New Zealand.

The university then organized a survey, which produced many other eyewitness accounts of sightings of fireballs and UFOs on that night. One of the witnesses who came forward had reported to the police on the night that he thought he had seen debris from a plane crash. The witness, Doug Vernon from Greenmount in Queensland, said he saw a fireball pass overhead and disappear behind a nearby ridge, and immediately afterwards a luminous green ball approximately 30 cm in diameter rolled gently down the slope from the ridge, “jumping” over rocks, and following a metal fence for several minutes.

In his paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Dr. Hughes suggests there were at least three fireballs that night and that one of them was linked to the green light, which was actually ball lightning. It could not have been solid, he said, or it would not roll gently down the hill. There was no explosion and no crater or meteor fragments were found.

Drawing of fireball travelling north by David Sawell

The theory proposes that one of the falling to Earth as a fireball could have triggered an electrical connection between the upper atmosphere and the surface, and this would have provided enough energy to create ball lightning seen rolling down the side of the Great Dividing Range by Mr Vernon. Dr. Hughes said there is a natural flow of current between the ionosphere and the ground, and this could have been increased by the passage of a streaming a trail of charged particles and other conductive material behind it.

Dr. Hughes speculated that this created a transient conductive connection to the ground, putting a charge into the ground and creating a plasma ball of some kind above it. He likened the ionosphere and ground to the two terminals of a battery and the spark that is created when a wire touches both terminals.

Dr. Hughes said the events during that night could have led some people to think the bright green object and fireballs were UFOs, and he said that if you add “inexplicable atmospheric phenomena” to human psychology, this could explain many .

Fireballs are produced when fragments of rock around the size of an apple enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Like shooting stars, which are produced by small particles, they shoot across the sky with great speed. Dr. Hughes said the fireballs could have been debris from a comet that passed close to Earth four months earlier.

Ball lightning is a rare phenomenon in which bright spheres of light are seen to hover and move unexpectedly. It is poorly understood but is known to be often associated with thunderstorms. There was no electrical storm in the region on the night of the sighting.

Explore further: Physicists use magnetism simulation software to model US presidential elections

More information: Hughes, Stephen W. (2010) Green fireballs and ball lightning. Royal Society of London. Proceedings A. Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. (In Press) eprints.qut.edu.au/38939/

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User comments : 17

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JRDarby
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2010
I don't think it is much different to explain the UFO phenomenon, whatever it is, by appealing to ball lightning than by appealing to extra terrestrials: ball lightning is so little understood that practically speaking it might as well be an ET. That said, at least we have something to work with with BL perhaps.
Simonsez
3.5 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2010
I can't believe this is major news, considering that governments have been using ball lightning as much as swamp gas and weather balloons for explanations of UFOs for the better part of a century now.
thales
3 / 5 (4) Dec 02, 2010
Skeptoid says there's no real evidence that ball lightning is a real phenomenon.

http://skeptoid.c...des/4192
Mercury_01
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2010
I once saw multiple balls of plasma like light swinging through the treetops and changing colors. 8 hours later, at 6 am, a lightning storm originated from the same spot. Im pretty sure it was ball lightning, or what they call "earthlights", and let me tell you, it sure looked like they were under conscious control. the way they moved was pretty weird.
yyz
5 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2010
"I once saw multiple balls of plasma like light swinging through the treetops and changing colors. 8 hours later, at 6 am, a lightning storm originated from the same spot."

You observed a lightning storm originate in "treetops"? How tall is that tree?
Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2010
Nah, they all got it wrong. Jack O'Neill had the answer: "It's magnets, yeah, magnets!"
Raveon
1.3 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2010
Explaining the unknown with something that might exist. Good science. Meteorites can burn multi-colored. I saw one once during the day, along with a few hundred others to head off the skeptics. A burning meteorite could have rolled down a hill just like a boulder would, no need to invoke ball lightning.
StillWind
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2010
I guess that there was no real news happening today.
Thadieus
4.8 / 5 (4) Dec 02, 2010
The last 48 hours We just found out there is three times as many stars than we thought and now life can be created with arsenic. We have just exponentially increased the high probability of life on another plant by a trillion. Hello!!!!
Jim1965
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2010
Ball lightning: another snow job. Pay no attention to the strange craft flying over every country of the planet.
OckhamsRazor
not rated yet Dec 03, 2010
I once saw multiple balls of plasma like light swinging through the treetops and changing colors. 8 hours later, at 6 am, a lightning storm originated from the same spot. Im pretty sure it was ball lightning, or what they call "earthlights", and let me tell you, it sure looked like they were under conscious control. the way they moved was pretty weird.


St Elmo's Fire?
HealingMindN
not rated yet Dec 04, 2010
I saw a scientist create ball lightning in the lab that would last for a few seconds from a giant capacitor array, but I only saw white. This article seems to be focused on "green" ball lightning. Does that mean there are copper ions floating around in there? What is the significance?
Mercury_01
1 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2010
"I once saw multiple balls of plasma like light swinging through the treetops and changing colors. 8 hours later, at 6 am, a lightning storm originated from the same spot."

You observed a lightning storm originate in "treetops"? How tall is that tree?

I'm sorry, Im not following your incredulity. Are you calling into question the existence of ball lightning, or its connection with weather phenomena? the lightning storm originated in the sky, above the ridge where I saw the ball lightning. Not in the treetops, as you so ridiculously inferred. Apparently three of us are so programmed to respond negatively to any article with the term "UFO" in it, that one pertaining to an entirely different subject can illicit a knee-jerk emotional response, thinly veiled in comedy. I almost feel bad for you.
Mercury_01
1 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2010
I saw a scientist create ball lightning in the lab that would last for a few seconds from a giant capacitor array, but I only saw white. This article seems to be focused on "green" ball lightning. Does that mean there are copper ions floating around in there? What is the significance?

I have no idea what causes it, but what I saw was like a plasma that changed between neon green, yellow, blue, and red. The colors changed fluidly, not like switching, but like random fading or morphing between the different shades, but with dwell time on each color approx 5 seconds.
Mercury_01
not rated yet Dec 05, 2010
Explaining the unknown with something that might exist. Good science. Meteorites can burn multi-colored. I saw one once during the day, along with a few hundred others to head off the skeptics. A burning meteorite could have rolled down a hill just like a boulder would, no need to invoke ball lightning.


What I saw lasted around 40 minutes. I and at least three others from my wildland fire crew witnessed this in northern Washington from a distance of about 1/4 mile on a ridgetop. These were perfectly visible spheres of light, moving in what looked like parabolic arcs, lines, and ellipses. Even if you didn't know all that, or if you want to discredit something which is already known to science, are you really going to try and tell me that a "burning meteor" can roll down a hill (as they often do) and make the same multicolored light that it does when it streaks through the atmosphere? The only thing that Ive "evoked" is your stupidity.
gwrede
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2010
UFOs explained as ball lightning
Already before I started school my father told me not to trust anyone who explains something unknown with something else unknown.
rgwalther
5 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2010
If I were an alien astronaut making a survey run over Earth, I might disguise my craft as a local light phenomenon. This would be preparation for the human suited, reptilian invasion on the planet to steal our water and eat our most tender children.

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